New York City – Some Associations Of Old Ann Street, 1720-1920

Ann Street is one of those strange, irregularly laid-out thoroughfares commencing at both Broadway and Park Row, and then running in an easterly direction, crossing Nassau and William Streets, and terminating at Gold Street. It is a narrow, cavernous street, only three blocks in length, strongly remindful of the streets of old Boston or London, and almost retains the aspect of sixty years ago from Nassau to Gold Streets. Theatre Alley divides the north side between Park Row and Nassau Street, being called “The Mews” in 1797, securing its present name in 1807. It was used as an approach to the old Park Theater.

About 1720, the street was laid out and formally named “Ann Street,” although frequently quoted as being originally called “White Street,” probably for Mrs. Anna White, who, however, did not become a property owner on the street until years later than James Lyne’s survey of 1728, which shows the name of Ann Street first mentioned. It has also been stated that the Beekman family used their influence with the authorities to have the thoroughfare named for Ann, daughter of Gov. Gerardus C. Beekman, but as she was born March 15, 1739, that theory is also disposed of. Ann Vieltje, a Dutch burgher’s wife, is also given credit for being the person for whom the street was named, and I am inclined to give credence to this fact. Farm owners, when cutting paths through their property, generally called them by their wives’ first names ; perhaps this led to the name “Ann Street.” Strange though it may seem, there is no creditable information extant as to where the name “Ann Street” had its origin.

Originally, all that tract called Ann Street was embraced in Cornelius Van Tienhoven’s farm. A lane ran through the entire farm from Fulton Street, thence through Gold Street to where it intersects Ann Street, where there stood a great tree ; from there it turned west-ward into Broadway. It had not been carefully laid out, and was mainly to afford access to the “Commons,” being mainly a track through the underbrush and woodland. This Van Tienhoven’s Lane was the original Ann Street of 1642. The street between William and Gold on ac-count of its still being a very narrow block, leads me to believe it has the same identical width as the original Lane, and it is the narrowest block in the city with the sole exception of Thames Street. The city authorities have never widened it, confining their improvement to the blocks between Broadway and William Street. After the death of Van Tienhoven, the farm was sold to one Jan Smedes, who in turn disposed of the part embracing the area within the present Maiden Lane, Ann Street, Broadway, and a line on the east between William and Gold Streets, to four shoemakers—Coenrad Ten Eyck, John Harpendinck, Carsten Luersen and Jacob Abrahamson, who wished to establish tan-pits in that portion near Maiden Lane. This tract was called the celebrated “Shoemakers’ Pasture.” In 1696 most of the land was divided into town lots and sold for $100 each.

A part of the street on the northerly side was also in the Beekman tract, as well as in David Provoost’s farm, in the very early days. Then the “Commons” extended to the present Nassau Street (formerly Kip Street at this point) ; that block on Ann Street between Broadway and Nassau Street not being cut through until about the year 1769. The “Commons” occupied a square lying generally between Broadway and Nassau Street on the east and west, and Ann and Chambers Streets on the north and south, sometimes called by the Dutch “The Vlackte” or “Flat.” It was used to celebrate the public events, and public bonfires were lighted five times a year.

The “Vineyard” or “Governor’s Garden” also included a part of Ann Street, belonging to Governor Dongan and conveyed to him by John Knight in 1685. This tract included the block bounded by the present Park Row, Beekman, Nassau and Ann Streets. It was laid out as a garden, being for half a century a pleasure ground. Not until 1773 was any of the land disposed of. In that year, a triangular plot of ground—49 feet on Park Row and 81 feet on Ann Street (now No. 1 Park Row)—was purchased by Andrew Hopper for $1,640, where he kept a store for many years. In 1796 this property was valued at $4,000.

The southeast corner of Broadway and Ann Street was always a famous spot. The block bounded by Broadway, Nassau, Fulton and Ann Streets in the early eighteenth century (before 1712) was a public gathering place known as Spring Garden. A large Public House was situated directly at the Ann Street corner, known as Spring Garden House, being occupied in 1739 by Thos. Scurlock, known as a “vintner” or wine-maker. It was a well-known landmark. Scurlock died in 1747, and the establishment was run by his widow Eve for a number of years. It was advertised for sale in 1759, being de-scribed as “in Broadway at the corner of Spring Garden, now in use as a Tavern, Sign of the King of Prussia, and next door to Dr. Johnson’s,” President of Kings, now Columbia, College. In 1760 the proprietor was John Elkin, whose advertisement offered “breakfast from 7 to 9, tea in the afternoon from 3 to 6, the best of green tea and hot French rolls, pies and tarts drawn from 7 to 9, mead and cakes.” It remained a tavern until the early part of 1770, when it passed into the hands of Henry Bicker.

About this period, the “Sons of Liberty,” that celebrated political organization of revolutionary times, had vacated Montagnie’s, and were seeking a meeting-place. They had determined to support an establishment of their own, and, approaching Bicker, persuaded him to sell. Upon purchasing this property they christened it “Hampden Hall,” “consecrated to the cause of Liberty,” and on the 19th day of March, 1770, they assembled here for the first time. It became their headquarters, and was the scene of many disputes which characterized that era of our history. Near this building stood the famous “Liberty Pole,” and it is said that the first blood of the Revolution was shed here, when the British soldiery attempted to cut the pole down, that incident provoking a serious clash of arms.

On this corner the sign pointing the “Road to Boston” was in plain view ; on the Park Row corner was a sign-post showing the “Road to Albany.”

In 1719 there was a large rope-walk of Dugdale and Searles which was on Broadway from Ann to Chambers Streets. It was also in this year that Jacobus Kip was elected Alderman and Andries Maerschalck was elected his assistant from the North Ward, this district including Ann Street. They served jointly until 1727. The population of the Ward at this time was about 1,000 persons, and the entire city numbered but 7,000 inhabitants.

In 1729 Ann Street boasted three dwellings, and steadily grew, for in 1742 there were seven houses, in 1744 eight houses and in 1776 at the commencement of the historic struggle, twenty houses were built, almost all being on the south side of the street. These houses were used for residential purposes, but a few years afterward business enterprise began to invade the street, and though it might have retained a residential aspect, it was pre destined to become a mart of commerce. In those days also the houses were given street numbers, not the lots, so that if only three buildings were erected on a block, there were only three street numbers. This condition of affairs was corrected about the year 1820. The street was not all built up until about 1850.

No. 2 Ann Street was a mecca for organizations or societies who met in this building in the middle of the eighteenth century. Chief among them was St. John’s Masonic Lodge No. 1 (chartered December 27, 1757). In 1799 they met at 90 William Street.

The first mention of Ann Street in the New York City directories is the notice that “The Society of Peruke Makers and Hair Dressers met at Mr. Ketchum’s, 22 Ann Street in 1785.” This is printed in the first directory of the city, published in 1786 by Longworth.

One of the most important events that Ann Street can boast of is that of having Washington Irving (1783-1859) as its young schoolboy and resident. Young Irving in 1786 attended the school of Mrs. Ann Kilmaster at 13 Ann Street (between William and Gold Streets), where he continued for upwards of two years without, it is said, making much progress. After William Irving, father of Washington Irving, died on October 25, 1807, his mother continued to reside at the northwest corner of William and (40) Ann Street. Washington Irving also resided there with his mother, sisters and brothers. In this house, which was torn down a few years since, was written “Salamagundi” (1807) and “Knickerbocker’s History of New York” (1809). In the spring of 1811 he took up a residence with Henry Brevoort at Mrs. Ryckman’s on Broadway near Bowling Green. It is quite coincidental that when Irving died in 1859 the last rites at Tarrytown should be performed at Christ Church. He was an Episcopalian and no doubt frequently attended services at Christ Church in Ann Street, near his home.

Jonathan Pearsee kept a tavern on Nassau Street, corner of (No. 16) Ann Street about 1780. On May 12, 1784, he received from the city the sum of £ 182-13-0 for “victualling British prisoners.” His widow resided at 16 Ann Street in 1816.